Chapter 27b




Ivan emerged again, breathing hard as silently as he could.  Then he followed in the direction he had indicated the others should take.  He overtook them forcing open another manhole cover.  With Ivan’s strength, the cover was soon open, and they were out onto the street.


The next plan, hastily made, was this.  They would close the manhole.  They would move a car on top of the cover.  Then the others would arrive.  As it turned out, the order was different. 


While Tracy shoved the cover over the hole Hapgood, Jon and Ivan ran to the nearest parked car.  They bounced the car on its springs, and as it unweighted itself they yanked it toward the manhole.  Moving foot by foot, they brought the car to the hole.  As it turned out the manhole cover was never completely in place.  A hand appeared from the hole just before it was closed, and the next thing, one tire of the car was in place.  Instead of resting on the cover, the tire flipped the cover on edge and dropped into the hole. 


They looked at the result and decided that it was good enough for their purposes.  A blast of machinegun fire came out of the hole, but the car would present sufficient obstacle to prevent emergence from the sewers for the next few minutes while the mercenaries figured out how to remove the car or found another way out.  The four took to their heels.


Two or three blocks away, they ducked into the shelter of another alley and tried to decide where to go next.  Aden, for the moment, seemed to be safe.  What they needed to do was put some distance between themselves and Paris.  There were a number of possibilities. 


Most obvious but least appealing was to strike out by foot overland, making their way through the city and at last crossing yards and then fields.  But this could hardly be done without attracting the attention of the police.  The French Gendarmes could be expected to be sympathetic.  After all, Turelli was by now being sought worldwide.  But the police would communicate by radio, and Turelli’s men would be monitoring it.  With the best of intentions, the police would get them killed. 


There were some other possibilities.  Rail stations and the airport would be watched.  Car rental places would be under the scrutiny of an enemy they now had reason to fear had almost unlimited resources.  They might hire a cab to take them to another town, but that would again involve a radio communication that would reveal a break in routine. 


They had minutes in which to disappear.  It did not help that they were soaked with sewage, although Jon had been able to keep the briefcase above water.  Ivan abruptly ended the debate with a gesture and started to run.  In a few blocks they reached the Seine.  


At the level of the Sorbonne the Seine is divided by islands.  There are walks along the river on both sides of the islands and on each side on both sides of the division of the river, and there are walks at street level as well as below at close to river level, eight walks in all.  They dashed down steps to the lower level and kept from sight as best they could, walking southward and east.  When they could, they went up and crossed the river and then descended to the lower walk on the other side.


They were all making heavy weather of it, particularly Hapgood, but after an  hour they reached the Marne River and turned to walk upstream.  Soon enough they found what Ivan had hoped for.  A canal boat was moored near the street.  It took all of Hapgood’s French, but at last the canal boat operator agreed to take them. 


It was a regular tourist canal boat, idle at this time of year.  It had all the amenities for living aboard, including a washer and drier.  The boatman pulled up buckets from the river so they could wash the clatches of filth off and then go below.  There they showered and wrapped in blankets while their clothes soaked in detergent.  As soon as the boatman felt things were under control he cast off.


By the time dark fell they were clean and dry and warming up below decks.  The engine gave a sturdy growl as the canal boat forged its way up the Marne toward open country and the romantic canal system of France. 


While the four had been living through their adventures in Paris, Ali Kamali had been going around Florence.


He walked along the Ponte Vechio, the covered bridge over the Arno, and bought a leather bag he didn’t need just for the pleasure of haggling over it.  The place reminded him of a traditional Arab souk with the same informality and cheerful energy. 


He visited the graves of Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo.  It had been Galileo’s use of the telescope and the astronomical discoveries he made with it that had started the sequence which had finally toppled the authority of Ptolemy.  Roughly speaking Galileo had discovered that things move, Copernicus described the universe the way most people thought about it, as planets moving about the sun in circles. 


Tycho Brache had made careful measurements of the planets, the first highly accurate scientific measurements ever made, and found that the universe of Copernicus did not agree with observation.  He invented the field of astrometry, the science of measuring the distance to the stars.  Just as the trees of a forest seem to move with respect to each other as one walks among them, if the earth truly circled the sun, and if the stars were scattered through space, the stars should shift their apparent spacing as the earth made its annual cycle.  Brache found no such change and was able, knowing the accuracy of his measurements and the diameter of the earth’s supposed orbit, to calculate the minimum distance to the stars.  The answer he came up with was so preposterously large that he rejected it as impossible and concluded that Ptolemy was right in essence.


Wrong for the right reasons, Brache invented a structure for the universe that would account for his observations.  For centuries his model was mocked as geometrically impossible until some time around the turn of the third millennium somebody made a cardboard cutout of it, and in fact it works just fine.


Kepler used Brache’s observations to describe a universe in which the planets travel in ellipses, ovals, and move faster as they come closer to the sun.  Newton’s invention of gravity did not change those predictions, but Newton’s system was simpler and more generally applicable.


Three of the geniuses, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, made important contributions to the design of telescopes.  Tycho Brache used an iron bar several yards long for his own work.  He had a silver nose to replace one he lost in a duel.  The duel was over which of the duelists was the more brilliant.  It occurred to Kamali that Allah might be letting the infidels survive just to keep everyone else amused. 


It seemed to Kamali that despite Western ideas about individual accomplishment, all the “great men” somehow seemed to become great before they did whatever it was they were great for.  Galileo had been a professor.  Copernicus had been a doctor of canon law, a lecturer in astronomy and a physician before he even began to think about the universe.  Brache had royal patronage.  Kepler was given sole access to Brache’s measurements. 


Newton clearly had royal favor even as a young man who had accomplished nothing.  The king ordered that the Lucasian professor, which Newton was, would not have to take holy orders.  The only reason for this was that Newton himself was an Arian, who did not believe in the Trinity.  Without the royal nod, Newton would have lost his job.


It did not seem so important to Ali.  If a human has a body, mind and spirit, why not God?  Granted that in Western scripture there was little or no support for the Trinity, it was nothing but a description – God the Father being the creating mind, Christ the Son the physical body and the Holy Spirit of the same essence as the spirit of man with whom It communed. 


Yet over such things jobs were lost, reputations ruined and wars fought. 


Even the difference between Islam and Christianity seemed subtle.  Most Muslims regarded Christ with as much awe as Christians did.  It was just that they could not bear to believe that he had actually been executed in the way the Christian Bible describes. 


On the other hand it was perfectly clear both to Muslim and to Christian that God had forbidden anyone to make a likeness of anything.  Yet look at what was here in Florence.  For Florence was the diadem in the crown of the renaissance.  It was here, not Rome where the most dazzling collection of art resided.  To these galleries had come northern Europeans, accustomed to no more than an occasional rough woodcut in a book, to be overwhelmed by the glory, the perfusion and the perfection of human and nature in paint of the most commanding hue.


They had got museumitis so bad, these early visitors, that they had staggered onto the street and vomited out of emotional intensity.  Then they would go back in and look some more.  It was idolatry above and beyond the call of sanity.


The single statue the David, a towering stone depiction of a young boy facing a giant, would have made any other city famous.  Ali, who knew a little about music, noticed that one hand, that hung in repose by the thigh, was not in the usual position of cup shape.  Instead the knuckles at the base of the fingers were straight and the other knuckles bent hard.


David had been a harpist.  And the discipline of the harp develops enormous strength in the intrinsic muscles of the hand.  The tone of those muscles at rest draws the hand into a claw.  Michelangelo had known it.  It is said that there were more recognizable and real anatomical features in Michelangelo’s art than there are described by modern medicine.  It is one thing to sin, but who would ever work that hard at it? 


They would swallow such blatant misconduct and still become murderous over technical points of definition. 


For that matter, the Western alphabet is derived, whether from Egyptian hieroglyphic or Mesopotamian cuneiform, from pictures of little animals and objects.  A page of text has more idols than a Hindu temple.  Yet the western mind regards it unmoved. 


And then there was the Western infatuation with the Arab invention alcohol.  Although good Muslims are expected not to drink alcohol, in fact the only statement the Prophet had made was to abstain from date wine.  That was probably because of its use in pagan orgies at the time Mohammed was converting the people from their idolatrous past.  Yet it only made sense to abstain.  Alcohol never seemed to do a lot for anyone.


Of course the arak distilled in Beirut was still the best, if Ali was to believe his friends.  But these Westerners had produced a bewildering, not to say intoxicating, array of beverages.  That was in keeping with their undeniable vitality.  A trip though a Western department store was enough to convince any rational being that there were limits to human cupidity.  No one could ever want to possess all the clothing and other allures of a single great store.  And yet they would pack them in side by side so that shoppers could go from one to the next.


Of course the great souk of Istanbul was better shopping. 


But the West had elevated drinking to the level of a religious obligation.  They drank wine in their communion at least symbolically.  How was one to understand that?  What was it in wine that seemed to tie them to a perception of God?  It was not the alcohol.  That was the same stuff as in demon rum.  But religious observance both ancient and pious tied them to it.  And the refinements of its brewing were career upon career for brilliant men.  One Frenchman had even modestly remarked that his own nose was no better than that of an average bloodhound. 


That might not have been completely true.  According to Aden, the most conspicuous genetic advances humans had made upon their common ancestor with the chimpanzee had been in the sense of smell. 


Genetically humans are more similar than their appearance would suggest.  Thus human evolution, the genetic changed wrought by selection of favored genes, had been most intense in the matter of appearance and, according to the new information since the human genome project was completed, in the matter of smell.


The thing the two had in common was that they permitted the most subtle recognition of other humans.  And the point of that was quite critical.  Perhaps the band that Aden was now helping were right, that mating had to be extremely exclusive because of the chagreen of infertility otherwise.  Or perhaps it was simply a good thing if people could tell each other apart.


Ali visited the rooms of Savonarola.  It was a tidy apartment overlooking the palazzo.  There was something about the light in the room that made people’s faces seem more luminous, more transparent and more sculpted than under most circumstances.  It would not do to be superstitious, but Ali felt he was in the presence of something that was not evil.  In spite of all the turbulence and confrontation of Savonarola’s life, there must have been deep down something very good about him.


Savonarola himself obviously thought so.  For not everyone in Florence was happy about the wealth and opulence of the Italian Renaissance.  He was a Dominican monk, who raged and ranted like a Protestant against the corruption he found in the life of the city around himself, in the licentiousness of the lay folk and the worldliness of a clergy which should have been otherwise.


The Dominican exhorted, and people complied.  Books, paintings and clothing, the finest perhaps the world had ever produced, had been heaped in bonfires in the streets of Florence.  In typical infidel fashion, he pushed his ideals past the point of acceptability, amassed powerful and implacable enemies and died by hanging after cruel torture.  His body was burned.  In a way that was only fitting, for Savonarola himself had been another of the unequaled ornaments of this great city. 


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